Lower back pain is one of the most common health complaints and can stop you from enjoying your favourite activities or even completing simple daily tasks. For severe cases of chronic lower back pain, doctors may recommend invasive surgery that can leave you immobile for weeks. However, there are many effective ways to treat lower back pain naturally that can alleviate pain and stiffness and heal the cause of the problem.
Lower Back Anatomy
Your lower back, or lumbar region, is an impressive feat of engineering consisting of five vertebrae in a flexible curve as well as a complex network of muscles, connective tissue, and nerves.
The lower back is responsible for carrying your body weight and supporting your spinal column, while also connecting the upper part of your body to the hips and pelvis allowing you to bend, twist and give power to your legs. However, due to its important role in performing everyday movements, your lower back is prone to injury and degeneration from overuse leading to a range of painful symptoms.
Symptoms of Lower Back Pain
As the lower back contains a dense network of nerves and connective tissues, an injury or degenerative condition in this area can cause various painful symptoms.
The symptoms of lower back pain vary according to the precise location and cause of the pain. You may feel pain that is localized to your lower back or pain that radiates through your pelvis, buttocks, and legs. Some symptoms you may experience include:
- A dull ache or throb in the lumbar region.
- Tingling or numbness in the lower back and surrounding areas.
- Muscle spasms.
- Tension and stiffness in the area accompanied by a limited range of motion when bending or twisting.
- Sharp burning or stinging pain.
Causes of Lower Back Pain
Lower back pain can be felt as both acute and chronic. Acute conditions, those that last less than three months, are often due to an injury or sudden trauma to the soft tissue or spinal discs. Chronic conditions, those that last for more than three months, can be due to untreated trauma or from an underlying condition.
Acute Lower Back Pain Causes
The most common cause of acute lower back pain is a pulled muscle or ligament, typically caused by a sporting accident or poor lifting technique. However, acute lower back pain can also come on suddenly after a prolonged period of poor posture or repetitive movements that weaken the muscles of the lower back and put strain on the lumbar spine.
Chronic Lower Back Pain Causes
Chronic lower back pain generally involves disc injuries, nerve compression and joint issues that go beyond the body’s natural healing abilities. Some conditions that cause chronic lower back pain include:
- Osteoarthritis, which occurs as we age, is inflammation of the discs and facet joints in the spine.
- Degenerative disc disease is the loss of fluid from the spinal discs over time leading to tears and herniation.
- Spinal stenosis is the narrowing of the spinal canal which puts pressure on the nerves.
- Herniated disc occurs when the inner part of the disc breaks through the outer layer causing inflammation in the surrounding nerves.
- Sacroiliac joint dysfunction occurs when there is too much or too little motion in the sacroiliac joint causing inflammation.
Lower Back Pain Treatment
The best, and most simple, course of treatment for lower back pain is rest. Resting the back for a few days allows the body’s natural healing mechanisms to alleviate the problem. During this time, you should avoid any activity that involves lifting, bending or twisting, and taking OTC pain relievers can manage the pain.
However, in cases where your lower back pain persists beyond the recommended rest time, or if the injury is old or recurrent, other natural treatment methods may be more effective at healing the root cause of the problem and managing the pain.
Spinal adjustment, or manipulation, is a common chiropractic treatment for lower back pain and is also used as an essential diagnostic tool. Your chiropractor can use this method to assess the range of motion or abnormal movement of the lower spine and determine the cause of the pain.
Spinal manipulation involves a high velocity, short amplitude thrust on the area of the spine that is injured. These thrusting movements typically result in a cracking or popping sound which indicates that trapped gases are being released from between the joints. Manipulation aims to restore mobility to the joints and repair subluxation of the spine which in turn relieves pressure on nerves and surrounding tissues.
The Cox technique is a specialized form of spinal adjustment designed to decompress the spine manually. It is a gentle, non-forceful method of moving the spine with slow, repetitive motions through its natural range of motion. The Cox technique can relieve and heal lower back pain by reducing pressure on spinal discs and nerves and improving mobility in the joints.
The Cox technique uses both flexion and distraction to neutralize the effects of gravity on the spine. Flexion movements involve bending the spine forward, while distraction movements bend the spine in the opposite direction. It is performed on a specialized table that can be height adjusted at various intervals to facilitate ease of movement and better access to painful areas.
It is suitable for most painful lower back conditions as this technique uses both decompression movements and manual adjustments.
For conditions that affect the spinal discs such as herniated or bulging discs and disc degeneration, or sciatica and other nerve compression injuries, your healthcare practitioner may recommend spinal traction to help relieve the pressure and tension in the area.
Spinal traction can be performed either manually or mechanically using a specialized traction apparatus. Traction involves stretching and lengthening the spine longitudinally to create space between the spinal discs and vertebrae which decompresses the spine and allows your chiropractor to realign bulging discs and alleviate pressure on the surrounding nerves.
Spinal Traction sessions typically last between 30 minutes and an hour. During this time, you will be fitted with a harness which is controlled by a computer that exerts different levels of force as determined by your chiropractor according to your specific needs.
Kennedy Neural Flex Spinal Decompression
Kennedy Neural Flex spinal decompression is another traction technique that uses gentle force to decompress the spine. However, unlike traditional traction methods, the Kennedy Neural Flex traction table moves your spine in a way that prevents the surrounding muscles from spasming, offering a gentler mode of spinal decompression suitable for patients that may not otherwise be eligible for spinal decompression.
For complete spinal decompression, the Kennedy Neural Flex traction table uses gentle, rhythmic pulsing movements to create space for spinal discs. Treatment is completed over several sessions and last around 15 – 30 minutes per session and is typically used as part of a comprehensive treatment program which includes electric muscle stimulation and massage.
Electric Muscle Stimulation
In some cases, lower back pain is caused by spasming muscles that put pressure on nerves and surrounding tissues. One of the best ways to relieve lower back spasms is with electric muscle stimulation.
During electric muscle stimulation, small electrodes are placed strategically around the area which then emits short electrical pulses into the muscles causing them to contract rapidly. These small, rapid muscle contractions relieve lower back pain by boosting blood flow in the area, reducing inflammation, causing tight muscles to release or fatiguing spasming muscles and alleviating pressure on nerves.
In addition to relieving tension, electric muscle stimulation causes the body to release endorphins which are the body’s natural painkillers.
The entire process is carefully monitored by your chiropractor and patients are encouraged to give verbal feedback regarding the pain level or other sensations during the process to optimize the treatment.
As part of your initial consultation, your chiropractor may use an ultrasound to locate the source of your lower back pain. But, in addition to its diagnostic uses, ultrasound can be an effective lower back pain treatment.
Ultrasound is best suited to chronic lower back pain conditions as it uses vibrations and heat to access deep levels of tissue and can help to break up scar tissue that has formed and boost blood flow to the area.
Massage therapy is most often used for lower back conditions that involve the soft tissues around the lumbar spine, or in conjunction with other chiropractic therapies.
There are several different massage techniques that chiropractors use depending on the nature and severity of your lower back pain. Deep tissue massage aims to relieve tension and pain in the deep layers of muscle by using intense pressure and gliding strokes that go across the grain of the muscle.
Myofascial release focuses predominantly on the connective tissues and uses mild pressure and prolonged strokes to lengthen and soften the fascia.
In some cases, your lower back pain may not be caused by the tissues in the lower back. The source of the pain may be located elsewhere in your body. Trigger point therapy is a type of massage that focuses on the source of the pain and uses pressure and release cycles combined with deep breathing techniques used by the patient.
Hot and Cold Therapy
Hot and cold therapy is an effective natural treatment for managing lower back pain as it deals with the inflammation that can be the root cause of the pain. Cold therapy is best used immediately after an injury to prevent inflammation in the area and reduce the severity of the injury. However, it can be equally as effective when used as part of a therapeutic program, using heat and cold.
During a hot and cold therapy session, the practitioner will apply cold packs to the painful area for a controlled amount of time to reduce inflammation, then alternate with heat to boost blood flow to the area, flooding the soft tissues of the lower back with nutrients to aid in healing.
Often, hot and cold therapy can be combined with other treatments as part of a comprehensive treatment plan and to alleviate mild discomfort that can occur after spinal manipulation or decompression.
Many conditions involving lower back pain can be the result of poor conditioning or muscle weakness. As part of a holistic treatment program, your chiropractor may recommend lower back pain exercises and stretches and to alleviate discomfort and strengthen muscles and connective tissues.
Preventing Lower Back Pain
Though accidents can happen, there are ways you can protect your lower back from injury and improve your overall spinal health.
Many jobs require sitting at a desk. However, prolonged sitting is associated with weak core strength and can contribute to poor posture which can cause lower back pain. When possible avoid sitting at a desk or try to get up and move around for a few minutes every hour. When you are sitting, ensure you have the correct posture and that your screen is adjusted to eye level and your seat height allows your feet to rest comfortably on the floor.
Stay a Healthy Weight
Maintaining a healthy weight can take pressure off the lumbar spine and the surrounding muscles and can contribute to a stronger core. It can also help to prevent degenerative conditions of the lumbar spine. If you struggle with maintaining a healthy weight, your chiropractor can offer nutritional counselling as part of your treatment program.
Regular exercise is not only great for your cardiovascular health but can keep your core and lower back muscles in good condition which can facilitate proper movement and function and stabilize your spine. Some effective lower back pain exercises include walking, swimming, aqua aerobics, Pilates and yoga.
Many lower back injuries occur because of poor lifting techniques. No matter how strong or fit you are, poor technique can leave your lower back vulnerable to injury. Always bend at the hips and squat when lifting heavy objects, keeping your chest forward and the weight close to your body. Where possible, use an ergonomic lifting apparatus or ask for assistance.
You don’t need to let lower back pain stop you from living your life to the fullest. There is a huge range of effective natural lower back treatments offered by experienced chiropractors that can help you manage the pain and cure the cause.
Let Drs. Adam and Amanda Apfelblat help bring you better health and a better way of life through chiropractic wellness care by calling and making an appointment today.